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OpenType Fonts

What you need to know about OpenType fonts


Type 1, TrueType, and OpenType font file

Type 1, TrueType, and OpenType font files. | Type & Fonts FAQ | Glossary of Type & Fonts Terms

One of the problems of sharing files cross-platform is font incompatibility. OpenType fonts are Adobe and Microsoft's solution to font sharing. But cross-platform use is only one feature of OpenType fonts. They also have other benefits including simplified font management and more efficient typesetting.

While both the Mac and Windows OS support PostScript Type 1 and TrueType fonts, they are two different versions of each type of font. For example, a Mac TrueType font is different from a Windows TrueType font and they are not cross-platform compatible.

OpenType Fonts Facts & Features
Here's what you need to know about OpenType fonts:

  • The same OpenType font file works on both Mac and PC.

  • An extension of the TrueType format with Unicode based character coding, OpenType can also include PostScript font data.

  • In Windows, OpenType fonts can have an .otf or .ttf suffix. The .otf fonts are ones that contain PostScript data.

  • Each OpenType font has a single font file containing all information about that font.

  • OpenType, PostScript Type 1, and TrueType fonts can all reside on the same system.

  • Unlike the PostScript Type 1 font limit of around 256 glyphs, OpenType fonts may contain thousands of glyphs — eliminating the need for separate fonts for ligatures, small caps, different language character sets, and other Expert Character sets — it's all in one font file.

  • The .otf version of OpenType fonts use a compact font format that results in relatively smaller font file sizes, despite packing in more glyphs and other data.

OpenType Font Support
Should you rush out and get all new OpenType fonts? If cross-platform compatibility or multilingual typography are critical to your work and you use applications that take advantage of the advanced features, you may want to move to OpenType sooner rather than later. For the rest of us, there's no great rush. It's also important to find out if your commercial printer will support OpenType fonts.

At present (2004) only a few programs support the advanced features of OpenType. UPDATE: In 2011 OpenType support is wide-spread however the OpenType format has not replaced TrueType (yet). Those without OpenType support can still use OpenType fonts but won't have access to some features and can't access all of the glyphs in the font.

There are three types of support for OpenType:

  1. Basic (Ex. Adobe PageMaker users with Adobe Type Manager can use OpenType fonts in the same manner as any other fonts but they only have access to the standard character sets)

  2. Unicode (Ex. Windows XP provides access to extended language character sets found in OpenType fonts)

  3. Layout (Ex. Adobe InDesign users can access all the advanced typographic controls - ligatures, swash variants, kerning and more - in OpenType fonts)

Sources of OpenType Fonts
Adobe isn't the only producer of OpenType fonts although they have been the most prolific, converting their entire Adobe Type Library to OpenType as well as producing new OpenType faces that fully exploit the enhancements of the OpenType font format. Fonts that have been converted to OpenType from other font formats gain cross-platform compatibility but may not have all the enhancements of fonts built "from the ground up" in the OpenType format. Look here for at complete listing of OpenType fonts from Adobe: Adobe Type Library - OpenType. Increasingly, other Type Foundries will offer OpenType fonts as well.

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